Frances Elliot.

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"Unfortunately, there is no time to call the sindaco now," replied
Guglielmi. "If Count Nobili remains the night in company with his
bride, we shall have no difficulty about the civil marriage to-morrow.
Count Nobili will not object then. Not likely."

The lawyer gave a harsh, cynical laugh that grated offensively upon
the priest's ear. Fra Pacifico began to think Maestro Guglielmi

"That is your affair. I will undertake no further responsibility,"
responded Fra Pacifico, doggedly.

"You cannot mean, my father, that you will not help me?" And Guglielmi
contemplated Fra Pacifico fixedly with all the lightnings he could
bring to bear upon him. To his amazement, he produced no effect
whatever. Fra Pacifico remained silent. Altogether this was a priest
different from any he had ever met with - Guglielmi hated priests - he
began to be interested in Fra Pacifico.

"Well, well," was Guglielmi's reply, with an aspect of intense
chagrin, "I had better hopes. Your position, Fra Pacifico, as a
peace-maker - as a friend of the family - however" - here the lawyer
shrugged his shoulders, and his eyes wandered restlessly up and down
the room - "however, at least permit me to tell you what I intend to

Fra Pacifico bowed coldly.

"As you please," was his reply.

Maestro Guglielmi advanced close to Fra Pacifico, and lowered his
voice almost to a whisper.

"The circumstances attending this marriage are becoming very public.
My client, the Marchesa Guinigi, considers her position so exalted she
dares to court publicity. She forgets we are not in the middle ages.
Ha! ha!" and Guglielmi showed his teeth in a smile that was nothing
but a grin - "publicity will be fatal to the young lady. This the
marchesa fails to see; but I see it, and you see it, my father."

Fra Pacifico shook himself all over as though silently rejecting any
possible participation in Maestro Guglielmi's arguments. Guglielmi
quite understood the gesture, but continued, perfectly at his ease:

"The high rank of the young lady - the wealth of the count - a
marriage-contract broken - an illustrious name libeled - Count Nobili,
a well-known member of the Jockey Club, in concealment - the Lucchese
populace roused to fury - all these details have reached the capital.
A certain royal personage" - here Guglielmi drew himself up pompously,
and waved his hand, as was his wont in the fervor of a grand
peroration - "a certain royal personage, who has reasons of his own
for avoiding unnecessary scandal (possibly because the royal personage
causes so much himself, and considers scandal his own prerogative)
" - Guglielmi emphasized his joke with such scintillation as would
metaphorically have taken any other man than Fra Pacifico off his
legs - even Fra Pacifico stared at him with astonishment - "a certain
royal personage, I say - earnestly desires that this affair should
be amicably arranged - that the republican party should not have the
gratification of gloating over a sensational trial between two noble
families (the republicans would make terrible capital out of
it) - a certain personage desires, I say, that the affair should be
arranged - amicably arranged - not only by a formal marriage - the
formal marriage, of course, we positively insist on - but by a complete
reconciliation between the parties. If this should not be so, the
present ceremony will infallibly lead to a lawsuit respecting the
civil marriage - the domicile - and the cohabitation - which it is
distinctly understood that Count Nobili will refuse, and that
the Marchesa Guinigi, acting for her niece, will maintain. It is
essential, therefore, that more than the formal ceremony shall take
place. It is essential that the subsequent cohabitation - "

"I see your drift," interrupted downright Fra Pacifico, in his blunt
way; "no need to go into further details."

Spite of himself, Fra Pacifico had become interested in the narrative.
The cunning lawyer intended that Fra Pacifico should become so
interested. What was the strong-fisted, simple-hearted priest beside
such a sophist as Maestro Guglielmi!

"The royal personage in question," continued Guglielmi, who read in
Fra Pacifico's frank countenance that he had conquered his repugnance,
"has done me the high honor of communicating to me his august
sentiments. I have pledged myself to do all I can to prevent the
catastrophe of law. My official capacity, however, ends with Count
Nobili's presence here at the appointed hour."

At the word "hour" Guglielmi hastily pulled out his watch.

"Only a few minutes more," he muttered. "But this is not all. Listen,
my father."

He gave a hasty glance round, then put his lips close to the priest's

"If I succeed - may I say _we_?" he added, insinuatingly - "if _we_
succeed, a canonry will be offered to you, Fra Pacifico; and I"
(Guglielmi's speaking eyes became brilliantly emphatic now) - "I shall
be appointed judge of the tribunal at Lucca."

"Pshaw!" cried Fra Pacifico, retreating from him with an expression
of blank disappointment. "I a canon at Lucca! If that is to be
the consequence of success, you must depend on yourself, Signore
Guglielmi. I decline to help you. I would not be a canon at Lucca if
the King of Italy asked me in person."

Guglielmi, whose tactics were, if he failed, never to show it, smiled
his falsest smile.

"Noble disinterestedness!" he exclaimed, drawing his delicate hand
across his brow. "Nothing could have raised your reverence higher in
my esteem than this refusal!"

To conceal his real annoyance, Maestro Guglielmi turned away and
coughed. It was a diplomatic cough, ready on all emergencies. Again he
consulted his watch.

"Five minutes more, then we must assemble at the altar. A fine will be
levied upon Count Nobili, if he is not punctual."

"If it is so near the time, I must beg you to excuse me," said Fra
Pacifico, glad to escape.

Fra Pacifico, walked rapidly toward the door opening into the corridor
leading to the chapel. His retreating figure was followed by
a succession of fireworks from Guglielmi's eyes, indicative of
indignation and contempt.

"He who sleeps catches no fish," the lawyer muttered to himself,
biting his lips. "But the priest will help me - spite of himself, he
will help me. A health to Holy Mother Church! She would not do much if
all her ministers were like this country clod. He is without ambition.
He has quite fatigued me."

Saying this, Maestro Guglielmi poured out another glass of wine. He
critically examined the wine in the light before putting it to his
lips; then he swallowed it with an expression of approbation.



The chapel was approached by a door communicating with the corridor.
(There was another entrance from the garden; at this entrance Adamo
was stationed.) It was narrow and lofty, more like a gallery than a
chapel, except that the double windows at either end were arched and
filled with stained glass. The altar was placed in a recess facing the
door opening from the corridor. It was of dark marble raised on
steps, and was backed by a painting too much blackened by smoke to
be distinguished. Within the rails stood Fra Pacifico, arrayed in
a vestment of white and gold. The grand outline of his tall figure
filled the front of the altar. No one would have recognized the parish
priest in the stately ecclesiastic who wore his robes with so much
dignity. Beside Fra Pacifico was Angelo transformed into an acolyte,
wearing a linen surplice - Angelo awed into perfect propriety - swinging
a silver censer, and only to be recognized by the twinkling of his
wicked eyes (not even Fra Pacifico could tame them). To the right of
the altar stood the marchesa. Maestro Guglielmi, tablets in hand,
was beside her. Behind, at a respectful distance, appeared Silvestro,
gathered up into the smallest possible compass.

As the slow moments passed, all stood so motionless - all save Angelo,
swinging the silver censer - they might have passed for a sculptured
group upon a marble tomb. One - two - struck from the old clock in the
Lombard Tower at Corellia. At the last stroke the door from the garden
was thrown open. Count Nobili stood in the doorway. At the moment of
Count Nobili's appearance Maestro Guglielmi drew out his watch;
then he proceeded to note upon his tablets that Count Nobili, having
observed the appointed time, was not subject to a fine.

Count Nobili paused on the threshold, then he advanced to the altar.
That he had come in haste was apparent. His dress was travel-stained
and dusty; the locks of his abundant chestnut hair matted and rough;
his whole appearance wild and disordered. All the outward polish of
the man was gone; the happy smile contagious in its brightness; the
pleasant curl of the upper lip raising the fair mustache; the kindling
eye so capable of tenderness. His expression was of a man undergoing a
terrible ordeal; defiance, shame, anger, contended on his face.

There was something in the studied negligence of Count Nobili's
appearance that irritated the marchesa to the last degree of
endurance. She bridled with rage, and exchanged a significant glance
with Guglielmi.

Footsteps were now heard coming from the sala. It was Enrica, led
by the cavaliere. Enrica was whiter than her bridal veil. She had
suffered Pipa to array her as she pleased, without a word. Her hair
was arranged in a coronet upon her head; a whole sheaf of golden curls
hung down from it behind. There were the exquisite symmetry of form,
the natural grace, the dreamy beauty - all the soft harmony of color
upon her oval face - but the freshness of girlhood was gone. Enrica had
made a desperate effort to be calm. Nobili was under the same roof - in
the same room - Nobili was beside her. Would he not show some sign
that he still loved her? - Else why had he come? - One glance at him was
enough. Oh! he was changed! - She could not bear it. Enrica would have
fled had not Trenta held her. The marchesa, too, advanced a step or
two, and cast upon her a look so menacing that it filled her with
terror. Trembling all over, Enrica clung to the cavaliere. He led her
gently forward, and placed her beside Count Nobili standing at the
altar. Thus unsupported, Enrica tottered - she seemed about to fall. No
hand was stretched out to help her.

Nobili had turned visibly pale as Enrica entered. His face was
averted. The witnesses, Adamo and Silvestro, ranged themselves on
either side. The marchesa and Maestro Guglielmi drew nearer to the
altar. Angelo waved the censer, walking to and fro before the rails.
Pipa peeped in at the open doorway. Her eyes were red with weeping.
Pipa looked round aghast.

"What a marriage was this! More like a death than a marriage! She
would not have married so - not if it had cost her her life - no music,
no rose-leaves, no dance, no wine. None had even changed their clothes
but the cavaliere and the signorina. And a bridegroom like that! - a
statue - not a living man! And the signorina - poverina - hardly able to
stand upon her feet! The signorina would be sure to faint, she was so

Pipa had to muffle her face in her handkerchief to drown her sobs.
Then Fra Pacifico's impressive voice broke the silence with the
opening words of exhortation.

"Deus Israel sit vobiscum."

"Gloria patri," was the response in Angelo's childish treble.

Enrica and Nobili now knelt side by side. Two lighted tapers, typical
of chaste love, were placed on the floor beside them on either hand.
The image of the Virgin on the altar was uncovered. The tall candles
flickered, Enrica and Nobili knelt side by side - the man who had
ceased to love, and the woman who still loved, but who dared not
confess her love!

As Fra Pacifico proceeded, Count Nobili's face hardened. Was not the
basilisk eye of the marchesa upon him? Her lawyer, too, taking notes
of every look and gesture?

"Mario Nobili, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wife?" asked the
priest. Turning from the altar, Fra Pacifico faced Count Nobili as he
put this question.

A hot flush overspread Nobili's face. He opened his lips to speak, but
no words were audible. Would the words not come, or would Nobili at
the last moment refuse to utter them?

"Mario Nobili, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?"
sternly repeated Fra Pacifico, fixing his dark eyes upon him.

"I will," answered Nobili. Whatever his feelings were, Nobili had
mastered them.

For an instant Nobili's eye met Enrica's. He turned hastily away.
Enrica sighed. Whatever hopes had buoyed her up were gone. Nobili had
turned away from her!

Fra Pacifico placed Enrica's hand in that of Nobili. Poor little
hand - how it trembled! Ah! would Nobili not recall how fondly he had
clasped it? What kisses he had showered upon each rosy little finger!
So lately, too! No - Nobili is impassive; not a feature of his face
changes. But the contact of Nobili's beloved hand utterly overcame
Enrica. The limit of her endurance was reached. Again the shadow of
death was upon her - the shadow that had led her to the dark abyss.

When Nobili dropped her hand; Enrica leaned forward upon the edge
of the marble rails. She hid her head upon her arms. Her long hair,
escaped from the fastening, shrouded her face.

"Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus!" spoke the deep voice of Fra Pacifico.

He made the sign of the cross. The address followed. The priest's last
words died away in sonorous echoes. It was done. They were man and

Fra Pacifico had by no outward sign betrayed what he felt during the
discharge of his office; but his conscience sorely smote him. He asked
himself with dismay if, in helping Enrica, he had not committed a
mortal sin? Hitherto he had defended Count Nobili; now his whole soul
rose against him. "Would Nobili say nothing in justification?"
Spite of himself, Fra Pacifico's fists clinched themselves under his

But Nobili was about to speak. He gave a hurried glance round the
circle - upon Enrica kneeling at the altar; with the air of a man who
forces himself to do a hateful penance, he broke silence.

"In the presence of the blessed sacrament" - his voice was thick and
hoarse - "I declare that, after the explanations given, I withdraw my
accusations. I hold that lady, now Countess Nobili" - and he pointed to
the motionless mass of white drapery kneeling beside him - "I hold
that lady innocent in thought and life. But I include her in the just
indignation with which I regard this house and its mistress, whose
agent she has made herself to deceive me."

Count Nobili's kindling eye rested on the marchesa. She, in her turn,
shot a furious glance at the cavaliere.

"'Explanations given!' Then Trenta had dared to exonerate Enrica! It
was degrading!"

"This reparation made," continued Count Nobili - "my name and hand
given to her by the Church - honor is satisfied: I will never live with

Was there no mercy in the man as he pronounced these last words? No
appeal? No mercy? Or had the marchesa driven him to bay?

The marchesa! - Nobili's last words had shattered the whole fabric of
her ambition! Never for a moment had the marchesa doubted that, the
marriage once over, Nobili would have seriously refused the splendid
position she offered him. Look at her! - She cannot conceal her

"I invite you, therefore, Maestro Guglielmi" - the studied calmness of
Nobili's manner belied the agitation of his voice and aspect - "you,
Maestro Guglielmi, who have been called here expressly to insult me - I
invite you to advise the Marchesa Guinigi to accept what I am willing
to offer."

"To insult you, Count Nobili?" exclaimed Guglielmi, looking round.
(Guglielmi had turned aside to write a few hurried words upon his
tablets, torn out the leaf, and slipped it into the marchesa's hand.
So rapidly was this done, no one had perceived it.) "To insult you?
Surely not to insult you! Allow me to explain."

"Silence!" thundered Fra Pacifico standing before the altar. "In the
name of God, silence! Let those who desire to wrangle choose a fitter
place. There can be no contentions in the presence of the sacrament.
The declaration of Count Nobili's belief in the virtue of his wife
I permitted. I listened to what followed, praying that, if human
aid failed, God, hearing his blasphemy against the holy sacrament of
marriage, might touch his heart. In the hands of God I leave him!"

Having thus spoken, Fra Pacifico replaced the Host in the ciborium,
and, assisted by Angelo, proceeded to divest himself of his robes,
which he laid one by one upon the altar.

At this instant the marchesa rose and left the chapel. Count Nobili's
eyes followed her with a look of absolute loathing. Without one glance
at Enrica, still immovable, her head buried on her arms, Nobili left
the altar. He walked slowly to the window at the farther end of the
chapel. Turning his back upon all present, he took from his pocket a
parchment, which he perused with deep attention.

All this time Cavaliere Trenta, radiant in his official costume, his
white staff of office in his right hand, had remained standing behind
Enrica. Each instant he expected to see her rise, when it would
devolve on him to lead her away; but she had not stirred. Now the
cavaliere felt that the fitting moment had fully come for Enrica to
withdraw. Indeed, he wondered within himself why she had remained so

"Enrica, rise, my child," he said, softly. "There is nothing more to
be done. The ceremony is over."

Still Enrica did not move. Fra Pacifico leaned over the altar-rails,
and gently raised her head. It dropped back upon his hand - Enrica had

This discovery caused the most terrible commotion. Pipa, who had
watched every thing from the door, screamed and ran forward. Fra
Pacifico was bending over the prostrate girl, supported in the arms of
the cavaliere.

"I feared this," Fra Pacifico whispered. "Thank God, I believe it is
only momentary! We must carry her instantly to her room. I will take
care of her."

"Poor, broken flower!" cried Trenta, "who will raise thee up?" His
voice came thick, struggling with sobs. "Can you see that unmoved,
Count Nobili?" Trenta pointed to the retreating figure of Fra Pacifico
bearing Enrica in his arms.

At the sound of Trenta's voice, Count Nobili started and turned
around. Enrica had already disappeared.

"You will soon give her another bridegroom - he will not leave her
as you have done - that bridegroom will be Death! To-day it is the
bridal-veil - to-morrow it will be the shroud. Not a month ago she
lay upon what might have been her death-bed. Your infamous letter
did that!" The remembrance of that letter roused the cavaliere out of
himself; he cared not what he said. "That letter almost killed her.
Would to God she had died! What has she done? She is an angel! We were
all here when you signed the contract. Why did you break it?" Trenta's
shrill voice had risen into a kind of wail. "Do you mean to doubt what
I told you at Lucca? I swear to you that Enrica never knew that she
was offered in marriage to Count Marescotti - I swear it! - I did it - it
was my fault. I persuaded the marchesa. It was I. Enrica and Count
Marescotti never met but in my presence. And you revenge yourself on
her? If you had the heart of a man, you could not do it!"

"It is because I have the heart of a man, I will not suffer
degradation!" cried Nobili. "It is because I have the heart of a man,
I will not sink into an unworthy tool! This is why I refuse to live
with her. She is one of a vile conspiracy. She has joined with the
marchesa against me. I have been forced to marry her. I will not live
with her!"

Count Nobili stopped suddenly. An agonized expression came into his

"I screened her in the first fury of my anger - I screened her when
I believed her guilty. Now it is too late - God help her!" He turned
abruptly away.

Cavaliere Trenta, whose vehemence had died away as suddenly as it had
risen, crept to the door. He threw up his hands in despair. There was
no help for Enrica!

All this time Maestro Guglielmi's keen eyes had noted every thing. He
was on the lookout for evidence. Persons under strong emotions, as a
rule, commit themselves. Count Nobili was young and hot-headed. Count
Nobili would probably commit himself. Up to this time Count Nobili had
said nothing, however, that could be made use of. Guglielmi's ready
brain worked incessantly. If he could carry out the plan he had
formed, he might yet be a judge within the year. Already Guglielmi
feels the touch of the soft fur upon his official robes!

After the cavaliere's departure, Guglielmi advanced. He had been
standing so entirely concealed in the shadow thrown by the altar, that
Nobili had forgotten his presence. Nobili now stared at him in angry

"With your permission," said the lawyer, with a low bow, accosting
Nobili, "I hope to convince you how much you have wronged me by your

"What accusation?" demanded the count, drawing back toward the window.
"I do not understand you."

Guglielmi was the marchesa's adviser; Count Nobili hated him.

"Your accusation that 'I am here to insult you.' If you will do me the
honor, Count Nobili, to speak to me in private" - Guglielmi glanced at
Silvestro, Adamo, and Angelo, peering out half hid by the altar - "if
you will do me this honor, I will prove to you that I am here to serve

"That is impossible," answered Nobili. "Nor do I care. I leave this
house immediately."

"But allow me to observe, Count Nobili," and Maestro Guglielmi drew
himself up with an air of offended dignity, "you are bound as a
gentleman to retract those words, or to hear my explanation." (Delay
at any price was Guglielmi's object.) "Surely, Count Nobili, you
cannot refuse me this satisfaction?"

Count Nobili hesitated. What could this strange man have to say to

Guglielmi watched him.

"You will spare me half an hour?" he urged. "That will suffice."

Count Nobili looked greatly embarrassed.

"A thousand thanks!" exclaimed Guglielmi, accepting his silence for
consent. "I will not trespass needlessly on your time. Permit me to
find some one to conduct you to a room."

Guglielmi looked round - Angelo came forward.

"Conduct Count Nobili to the room prepared for him," said the lawyer.
"There, Count Nobili, I will attend you in a few minutes."



When the marchesa entered the sala after she had left the chapel, her
steps were slow and measured. Count Nobili's words rang in her ear: "I
will not live with her." She could not put these words from her. For
the first time in her life the marchesa was shaken in the belief of
her mission.

If Count Nobili refused to live with Enrica as his wife, all the law
in the world could not force him. If no heir was born to the Guinigi,
she had lived in vain.

As the marchesa stood in the dull light of the misty afternoon,
leaning against the solid carved table on which refreshments were
spread, the old palace at Lucca rose up before her dyed with the ruddy
tints of summer sunsets. She trod again in thought those mysterious
rooms, shrouded in perpetual twilight. She gazed upon the faces of the
dead, looking down upon her from the walls. How could she answer
to those dead; for what had she done? That heroic face too with the
stern, soft eyes - how could she meet it? What was Count Nobili or his
wealth to her without an heir? By threats she had forced Nobili to
make Enrica his wife, but no threats could compel him to complete the

As she lingered in the sala, stunned by the blow that had fallen
upon her, the marchesa suddenly recollected the penciled lines which
Guglielmi had torn from his tablet and slipped into her hand. She drew
the paper from the folds of her dress and read these words:

"_We are beaten if Count Nobili leaves the house to-night.
Keep him at all hazards_."

A sudden revulsion seized her. She raised her head with that
snake-like action natural to her. The blood rushed to her face and
neck. Guglielmi then still had hope? - All was not lost. In an instant
her energy returned to her. What could she do to keep him? Would
Enrica - Enrica was still within the chapel. The marchesa heard the
murmur of voices coming through the corridor. No, though she worshiped
him, Enrica would never lend herself to tempt Nobili with the bait of
her beauty - no, even though she was his wife. It would be useless to
ask her. "Keep him - how?" the marchesa asked herself with feverish
impatience. Every moment was precious. She heard footsteps. They must
be leaving the chapel. Nobili, perhaps, was going. No. The door to the

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Online LibraryFrances ElliotThe Italians → online text (page 25 of 28)